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Church in the doghouse

CHURCHES

Just like in politics, numbers matter in the church. As much as the COVID-19 pandemic has put so many commercial entities in the red, the church in Botswana has not escaped the wrath either. These glaring similarities between the church and world have pushed the former beyond limits and now there is a bone to pick with government.

Just last week, President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi met with men of the cloth, a jaw-jaw that precipitated a decision to increase the number of congregants per church service from 75 to 100 in line with the State of Emergency powers and COVID-19 regulations. The decision by the President is an indication that he has a foot in both camps – that is the church and COVID-19 Presidential Task Team.

But the church is still not satisfied, with some leaders expressing hard feelings over the bunch that met the President. From the latest decisions, it seems the government will open churches to their full capacity in a pi’s eye. In any case this position is expressed in black and white through various press statements from the Task team and individual ministries. Government is hell-bent on containing the possible spread of the coronavirus.

For some churches, such as the Zion Christian Church (ZCC) they have leaned on the Hobson choice – taking what is offered or nothing at all – and they have chosen the latter. The ZCC has also adopted a hush up as per the instruction of its leader, Bishop Lekganyane.

AND HERE ARE THE NUMBERS

A statistical generalisation in Botswana when it comes to church capacities demonstrates thus; St Peters Roman Catholic in Gabane, has a church capacity of 600. In main mall, Christ the King Cathedral Roman Catholic has a capacity of 1300, and in Gaborone West they have close to 1200 capacity.

Eloyi Christian Church in Selibe Phikwe boasts of a 1000 strong membership. On a normal service, The City Angeles Church in Tlokweng has 1500 people attending one service. For Spiritual Healing in Gaborone more than 800 people normally attend in between services; and as for Naledi Church of God in Palapye it has 700 people while Cornelius Apostolic Church has an average attendance of 2000 people in one service. The figures continue to pour in, Olive Church in Metsimotlhabe has more than 2500 members; while Royal Assembly in Gaborone has more than 800 attendees for a normal service. Their membership stands at 1200.

Speaking to this publication, Bishop Raphael Habibo of Assemblies of God confirmed that the 100 per service as recently prescribed is not enough. He pointed out that it would have been better had they been allowed a 200 or 300 ceiling looking at the capacity of various churches around the country.

“We are not in a position to take care of the needs of our people. In terms of counselling, ministering and standing with them during challenging times and financially. We have hired different people in church. When services are stopped it means we are not making enough money to pay these people. We hear the government’s cry but we need to come up with ways of living with this,” he said.

From Bishop Habibo’s interjection, it is evident that the church has an itching palm for purposes of paying salaries, rent, and general welfare issues. In essence the church is saying the 100 capacity command remains in the clouds, it is far from addressing the realities they face.

From the figures shared, it is evident that the church has a Midas touch but the Presidential Task Team on COVID-19 remains in the driver’s seat hence the church’s itching palm may be satisfied in a coon’s age!

While some church leaders agree that the churches do not need to be opened to the brim, they still shoot down the 100 members cap. They argue that they have enough space to adhere to COVID-19 protocols should their numbers be increased to 200 or 300.

The church says it is not only money that will ensure that they keep head above the water. There is a claim that by limiting the number of people may attend church services, emotional strain and depression are taking a toll on citizens. Faith thought leaders also attempt to link emerging worries such as Gender Based Violence and suicides to restrained spiritual interactions. While there is yet to be empirical data to full-proof these assertions as gospel truth, the church’s campaign for more numbers remains just a grasp at straws.

The church is also worried that certain decisions by the Presidential Task team appear to swim against the tide. They cite opening of borders, buses loading full capacity, tourism industry’s leisure travels, and a litany of decisions only explained by the idiom, smoke and mirrors.

CHURCH MEMBERS ARE DEPRESSED

“A lot of people have been stressed and depressed by this season. Having to live with the fear of the chance of contacting the virus or a loved one or colleague being positive is too much. It is at this point that we need to have a closer relationship with God to pray; to be in church and as we sing, we create an atmosphere of hope. People lost their jobs, businesses and for some it will take months if not years to recover.

We have even seen a rise in gender based violence – I would even think it’s indirectly connected to this pandemic. An affected mind facing a situation that is heavy and can’t take it anymore will just lose it and misbehave,” said the President of Royal Assembly Ministries, Boago Ramogapi.

“I wish the government could do “Capacity Seating” while still adhering to COVID-19 regulations of masks and distance between seats. In that case, a building that normally seats 1000 people will be able to take 500 people – there will still be space between the people and strict compliance on masks and sanitising,” he said.

He further highlighted that challenges arose amid the pandemic within the church and the main one was that many people were losing themselves and feeling helpless because they do not have the opportunity to go to church – a place that has an atmosphere to encounter, inspire and vibe peace of mind.

“On top of that, let’s understand that churches are run by the free will offerings of the congregants. Most of the time the offerings are taken when people have congregated. Discussing with some Pastors I discovered that many churches have had serious financial challenges – those renting places of worship, staff members to pay salaries and their usual outreaches to the less privileged were affected. We have banking online platforms to make transactions but they have not yet penetrated that much on the church sphere where people send their contributions to the church accounts,” he said.

When quizzed on the stand of the Ministry regarding the opening of churches, the Minister of Nationality, Immigration and Gender Affairs, Anna Mokgethi said;

“There is no silence at all. My Ministry has been engaged with faith leaders on the issue of increasing the number of attendees at church services. They have made their submissions to the Ministry on a number of occasions and we agreed on the submissions to be made to the Task Force team. Consultations are ongoing.

At yesterday’s COVID-19 Task Force meeting it was agreed that consultations should be concluded and submissions should be presented this coming Monday and a final decision be made.”But from the black and white issued by various Government agencies, capacity seating for churches will come in a month of Sundays!

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Civil Service volatility: Democracy vs Bureaucracy

19th April 2021
President Masisi

Here is how one Permanent Secretary encapsulates the clear tension between democracy and bureaucracy in Botswana: “President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s Government is behaving like a state surrounded with armed forces in order to capture it or force its surrender. The situation has turned so volatile, for tomorrow is not guaranteed for us top civil servants.

These are the painful results of a personalized civil service in our view as permanent secretaries”. Although his deduction of the situation may be summed as sour grapes because he is one of the ‘victims’ of the reshuffle, he is convinced this is a perfect description of the rationale behind frequent changes and transfers characterising the current civil service.

The result of it all, he said, is that “there is too much instability at managerial and strategic levels of the civil service leading to a noticeable directionless civil service.” He continued: “Changes and transfers are inevitable in the civil service, but to a permissible scale and frequency. Think of soccer team coach who changes and transfers his entire squad every month; you know the consequences?”

The Tsunami has hit hard at critical departments and Ministries leaving a strong wave of uncertainty, many demoralised and some jobless. In traditional approaches to public administration, democracy gives the goals; and bureaucracy delivers the technical efficiency required for implementation. But the recent moves in the civil service are indicative of conflicting imperatives – the notion of separation between politicians and administrators is becoming blurred by the day.

“Look at what happened to Prisons and BDF where second in command were overlooked for outsiders, and these are the people who had sacrificially served for donkey’s years hoping for a seat at the ladder’s end. The frequency of the changes, at times affecting the same Ministry or individual also demonstrates some level of ineptitude, clumsiness and lack of foresight from those in charge,” remarked the PS who added that their view is that the transfers are not related to anything but “settling scores, creating corruption opportunities and pushing out perceived dissident and former president, Ian Khama’s alleged loyalists and most of these transfers are said to be products of intelligence detection.”

Partly blaming Khama for the mess and his unwillingness to let go, the PS dismissed Masisi for falling to the trap and failing to outgrow the destructive tiff. “Khama is here to stay and the sooner Masisi comes to terms with the fact that he (Masisi) is the state President, the better. For a President to still be making these changes and transfers signals signs of a confused man who has not yet started rolling his roadmap, if at all it was ever there. I am saying this because any roadmap comes with key players and policies,” he concluded.

The Ministry of Health and Wellness seems to be the most hard-hit by the transfers, having experienced three Permanent Secretaries changes within a year and a half. Insiders say the changes have everything to do with the Ministry being the centre of COVID-19 tenders and economic opportunities. “The buck stops with the PS and no right-thinking PS can just allow glaring corruption under his watch as an accounting officer. Technocrats are generally law abiding, the pressure comes with politically appointed leaders racing against political terms to loot,” revealed a director in the Ministry preferring anonymity.

The latest transfer of Kabelo Ebineng she says was also motivated by his firm attitude against the President’s blue-eyed Task Team boys. “The Task Team wants to own the COVID-19 pandemic and government interventions and always cry foul when the Ministry reasserts itself as mandated by law,” said the director who added that Masisi who was always caught between the crossfire decided on sacrificing Ebineng to the joy of his team as they (Task Team) were in the habit of threatening to resign citing Ebineng as the problem.

Ebineng joins the Office of the President as a deputy Coordinator (government implementation and coordination office).The incoming PS is the soft-spoken Grace Muzila, known and described by her close associates as a conformist albeit knowledgeable.

One of the losers in the grand scheme is Thato Raphaka who many had seen as the next PSP because of his experience and calm demeanour following a declaration of interest in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Secretary post by the current PSP, Elias Magosi.

But hardly ten months into his post, Raphaka has been transferred out to the National Strategy Office in what many see as a demotion of some sort. Other notable changes coming into OP are Pearl Ramokoka formerly with the Employment, Labour and Productivity Ministry coming in as a Permanent Secretary and Kgomotso Abi as director of Public Service Reforms.

One of the ousted senior officers in the Office of the President warned that there are no signs that the changes and transfers will stop anytime soon: “If you are observant you would have long noticed that the changes don’t only affect senior officers but government decisions as well. A decision is made today and the government backtracks on it within a week. Not only that, the President says this today, and his deputy denies it the following day in Parliament,” he warned.

Some observers have blamed the turmoil in the civil service partly to lack of accountable presidential advisers or kitchen cabinet properly schooled on matters of statecraft. They point out that politicians or those peripheral to them should refrain from hampering the technical and organizational activities of public managers – or else the party (reshuffling) won’t stop.

In the view expressed by some Permanent Secretaries, Elias Magosi, has not really been himself since joining the civil service; and has cut a picture of indifference in most critical engagements; the most notable been a permanent secretaries platform which he chairs. As things stand there is need to reconcile the imperatives of democracy and democracy in Botswana. Peace will rein only when public value should stand astride the fault that runs between politicians and public managers.

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Morupisi fights for freedom in court

19th April 2021
morupisi

Former Permanent Secretary to the President, Carter Morupisi, is fighting for survival in a matter in which the State has charged him and his wife, Pinnie Morupisi, with corruption and money laundering.

Morupisi has joined a list of prominent figures that served in the previous administration and who have been accused of corruption during their tenure in office. While others have been emerging victorious, Morupisi is yet to find that luck. The High Court recently dismissed his no case to answer application.

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Pressure mounts on Biden to suspend Covid-19 vaccine patents

19th April 2021
Joe Biden

United States President, Joe Biden, is faced with a decision to make relating to the Covid-19 vaccine intellectual property after 175 former world leaders and Nobel laurates joined the campaign urging the US to take “urgent action” to suspend intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines to help boost global inoculation rates.

According to the world leaders, doing so would allow developing countries to make their own copies of the vaccines that have been developed by pharmaceutical companies without fear of being sued for intellectual property infringements.

“A WTO waiver is a vital and necessary step to bringing an end to this pandemic. It must be combined with ensuring vaccine know-how and technology is shared openly,” the signatories, comprising more than 100 Nobel prize-winners and over 70 former world leaders, wrote in a letter to US President Joe Biden, according to Financial Times.

A measure to allow countries to temporarily override patent rights for Covid related medical products was proposed at the World Trade Organization by India and South Africa in October, and has since been backed by nearly 60 countries.

Former leaders who signed the letter included Gordon Brown, former UK Prime Minister; François Hollande, former French President; Mikhail Gorbachev, former President of the USSR; and Yves Leterme, former Belgian Prime Minister.

In their official communication, South Africa and India said: “As new diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines for Covid-19 are developed, there are significant concerns [about] how these will be made available promptly, in sufficient quantities and at affordable prices to meet global demand.”

While developed countries have been able to secure enough vaccine to inoculate their citizens, developing countries such as Botswana are struggling to source enough to swiftly vaccine their citizens, something which world leaders believe it would work against global recovery therefore proving counter-productive.

Since the availability of vaccines, Botswana has been able to secure only 60 000 doses of vaccines, 30 000 as donation as from the Indian government, while the other 30 000 was sourced through COVAX facility.  Canada, has pre-ordered vaccines in surplus and it will be able to vaccinate each of its citizens six times over. In the UK and US, it is four vaccines per person; and two each in the EU and Australia.

For vaccines produced in Europe, developing countries are forced to pay double what European countries are paying, making it more expensive for already financially struggling economies.  European countries however justify the price of vaccines and that they deserve to buy them cheap since they contributed in their development.

It is evident that vaccines cannot be made available immediately to all countries worldwide with wealthy economies being the only success story in that regard, something that has been referred to as a “catastrophic moral failure”, head of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The challenge facing developing countries is not only the price, but also the capacity of vaccine manufactures to be able to do so to meet global demand within a short time. The proposal for a patent waiver by India and South Africa has been rejected by developed countries, known for hosting the world leading pharmaceutical companies such US, European Union, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland.

According to the Financial Times, US business groups including pharmaceutical industry representatives, have urged Biden to resist supporting a waiver to IP rules at the WTO, arguing that the proposal led by India and South Africa was too “vague” and “broad”.

The individuals who signed the letter, including Nobel laureates in economics as well as from across the arts and sciences, warned that inequitable vaccine access would impact the global economy and prevent it from recovering.

“The world saw unprecedented development of safe and effective vaccines, in major part thanks to US public investment,” the group wrote. “We all welcome that vaccination rollout in the US and many wealthier countries is bringing hope to their citizens.”

“Yet for the majority of the world that same hope is yet to be seen. New waves of suffering are now rising across the globe. Our global economy cannot rebuild if it remains vulnerable to this virus.”
The group warned that fully enforcing IP was “self-defeating for the US” as it hindered global vaccination efforts. “Given artificial global supply shortages, the US economy already risks losing $1.3tn in gross domestic product this year.”

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